The left in America has for a long time now resembled not so much a political movement as a contest to see how many schismatics could dance on the head of a pin, a conversation that has gone from being national to factional to simply eccentric. At some point, progressive politics reached a state where freeing Mumia was considered critical and electing a Democratic president was considered optional.
Then came Sept. 11, and the left found itself plunged into a debate on a subject of fundamental importance. And this was a debate in which to be of the left was to be, by definition, involved: In al Qaeda and in the Taliban and in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, liberal civilization faced an enemy that represented nearly every evil that liberalism has ever stood against.
What was the left going to do? A pretty straightforward call, you might say. America has its flaws. But war involves choosing sides, and the American side -- which was, after all, the side of liberalism, of progressivism, of democracy, of freedom, of not chucking gays off rooftops and not stoning adulterers and not whipping women in the town square, and not gassing minority populations and not torturing advocates of free speech -- was surely preferable to the side of the "Islamofascists," to borrow a word from the essayist and former man of the left, Christopher Hitchens.
Which is the point: Hitchens is a former man of the left. In the left's debate, Hitchens insisted that progressives must not in their disdain for America allow themselves to effectively support the perpetuation of despotism, must not betray the left's own values. Others -- notably the political philosopher Michael Walzer, the independent essayist Andrew Sullivan, New Republic writer Jonathan Chait and New York Observer columnist Ron Rosenbaum -- also made this argument with great force and clarity.
The debate is over. The left has hardened itself around the core value of a furious, permanent, reactionary opposition to the devil-state America, which stands as the paramount evil of the world and the paramount threat to the world, and whose aims must be thwarted even at the cost of supporting fascists and tyrants. Those who could not stomach this have left the left -- a few publicly, as did Hitchens and Rosenbaum, and many more, I am sure, in the privacy of their consciences.
Last weekend, the left held large antiwar marches in Washington, San Francisco and elsewhere. Major media coverage of these marches was highly respectful. This was "A Stirring in the Nation," in the words of an approving New York Times editorial, "impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers."
There is, increasingly, much that happens in the world that the Times feels its readers should be sheltered from knowing. The marches in Washington and San Francisco were chiefly sponsored, as was last October's antiwar march in Washington, by a group the Times chose to call in its only passing reference "the activist group International Answer."
International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is a front group for the communist Workers World Party. The Workers World Party is, literally, a Stalinist organization. It rose out of a split within the old Socialist Workers Party over the Soviet Union's 1956 invasion of Hungary -- the breakaway Workers World Party was all for the invasion. International ANSWER today unquestioningly supports any despotic regime that lays any claim to socialism, or simply to anti-Americanism. It supported the butchers of Beijing after the slaughter of Tiananmen Square. It supports Saddam Hussein and his Baathist torture-state. It supports the last official Stalinist state, North Korea, in the mass starvation of its citizens. It supported Slobodan Milosevic after the massacre at Srebrenica. It supports the mullahs of Iran, and the narco-gangsters of Colombia and the bus-bombers of Hamas.
This is whom the left now marches with. The left marches with the Stalinists. The left marches with those who would maintain in power the leading oppressors of humanity in the world. It marches with, stands with and cheers on people like the speaker at the Washington rally who declared that "the real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America." It marches with people like the former Black Panther Charles Baron, who said in Washington, "if you're looking for an axis of evil then look in the belly of this beast."
The Times' "mainstream" Americans marched last weekend with people who held signs comparing the president and vice president of their country to Hitler, and declaring, "The difference between Bush and Saddam is that Saddam was elected," and this one: "I want you to die for Israel. Israel sings Onward Christian Soldiers."